History of the Project

Organising the Collection

The first step was to acquire the images Geoff Peabody had collected in 1988, in the form of slides and negatives. Thereafter a steady stream of Elston residents would provide a continuous flow of photographs for scanning to rapidly swell the Archive.

An Excel spreadsheet was used to index the acquisitions, showing in each case who had supplied the photograph, the date it was taken, the image number, and details of the content so that it was easy to find any particular person who might appear in the Archive and quickly locate relevant pictures among the thousands of images. The list was compiled in order of acquisition but could be easily sorted by category, reference number, or source. The images themselves were kept in separate data files according to category. Separate catalogues for each category showing every image and everything that was known about them were compiled in tandem with the scanning of images as it would have been a huge and tedious task to leave their creation till the end of the Project after collecting what we hoped would be 2,000 images.

Dave Sankey scanning and cataloguing slides at the start of the Project

As well as making an appeal to those who attended the Launch, ads were placed in Octave (the parish magazine) and in the Newark Advertiser asking for people to make contact if they had any photographs or knew anyone else who had photographs but had left the village. It would be most helpful if people were able to date the photographs, even if only approximately. However, this would turn out to be a rare event. Often the photographs were from a deceased parent's collection and had no date or details attached. In many cases however, a much older person – but usually Mary Peatfield, Elston's oldest resident – was able to provide a great deal of extra detail on other people's photographs.

The response was slow at first but gathered speed, particularly after the appeal in the Newark Advertiser. Many very old and unusual photographs turned up, including some elegant Victorian portraits and photographs of a Tudor cottage pulled down in the 1960s, but also some delightful shots of Elston in a carpet of snow or in the russet and gold of autumn. Large collections included Almuth Monks' commemoration of 100 years of the Parish Council and the Women's Institute's file of photographs of events and past presidents going back to 1963. The Newark and Sherwood District Council Repository and Newark Library were another rich source, as was the fine collection on the walls of The Chequers. Bill Midwinter who, as a boy, lived in Elston Towers in the 1930s and who was now over 90, loaned his photograph album containing many views of the building. Sadly he died shortly afterwards before he could be interviewed for the Project.

Having started in December 2006 with the first 100 images, by March 2007 over 600 photographs had been collected, and by the end of April 2007 the total had reached 750. Several Powerpoint presentations of the best of the images were begun and updated as the collection increased and which could be ready at short notice for exhibitions or demonstrations. These included new pictures taken by the Project's photographer, John Baty, so that the older images could be morphed on the screen into how the scene looked today from the same viewpoint.

Budgeting, purchase of projector and laptop

The Photographic Archive would need a first class camera to take the modern pictures. It would also need a Powerpoint projector and a laptop computer. The latter would serve to drive the projector but would also be available for the storage of data. There was an early need for the camera so it was the first purchase. However until there was anything to show there was no need for the laptop or projector and so they weren't purchased until six months or more into the Project. But by the time it came to buy the laptop the model chosen had already been superseded – so fast is the speed of technological advancement – and another had to be selected.

A slideshow of photographs that John Baty had taken of the church memorials and inscriptions (many of which were scarcely visible to all but the most curious) served to test out the new projection equipment and laptop at a special event for the Team members to celebrate the first year of the Project. This was very informative about volume levels and the length of time that images sometimes need to be left on the screen.

Expanding the Project

As collecting proceeded documents, posters, school project work, and maps were sometimes offered along with the photographs. It soon became evident that no thought had been given to these important items and it was important that the team was aware that they existed and could get hold of them for exhibition purposes or in case anyone in the future should wish to write a history of Elston. So any documentary material was passed to Richard Brooks and any maps to Jean Williamson to copy or record ; and so two new projects were born. Whenever information was gathered about the building or the demolition of old houses it was added into a database. This enabled photographs to be dated if they contained, or did not contain, a particular building, and also fed into the Mapping Project to be matched against the collection of Ordnance Survey and other historical maps. The appearance of few old sepia photographs also prompted the idea that we should link an image of people who were buried in the churchyard to the headstone inscriptions that were being transcribed by Robin Campbell's team. And whenever art works of Elston scenes were spotted during visits to houses these were also borrowed and copied.

A walk around the village will demonstrate how many farms there once were. Even where the farms themselves no longer exist, their names have been perpetuated. There was no information about the farms in the Elston Index, nor was the new Mapping Project likely to throw much light on them. Ordnance Survey maps include farm names when it comes to labelling buildings, and they name or number fields, but these maps don't show how far the farm extended and which were in operation at any particular time. So a survey was commissioned of current farm ownership to produce a snapshot of land ownership in 2008 to be illustrated by a patchwork quilt of colour coded fields, even if there were no earlier such maps, other than those for the 1945 Darwin auction, with which to compare it.

Filing the Images

As more and more pictures were acquired, the same images would recur. This was because the proprietor of the Old Shop in Low Street in the 1920s, Mr Beeston, had employed a photographer to take pictures of the village, which he would then sell in his shop as postcards. On these occasions a better version, or perhaps a wider image, might turn up a few weeks after the first had been scanned. When this occurred the better image was saved instead. The policy was therefore to scan an image, no matter how poor it was, even including photocopies or pictures from newspapers, in the expectation that sooner or later it could be replaced with a better image. No unique photograph would be rejected on quality grounds.

It soon became evident that some parts of the village had been photographed much more than others. There were a great many pictures of Low Street, quite a few of Top Street and a smaller number of Mill Road, of which most were of the mill. There were several obvious reasons for this. Some other parts of the village hadn't been built at that time ; Low Street has most of the older cottages and is completely built up along the whole of its length ; Top Street has gaps due to the Hall, the Old Rectory and the Church ; Mill Road is much shorter ; building on Toad Lane is more recent ; and Pinfold Lane has been built on one side only.

The large number of images of Low Street posed an early problem. Images had been numbered from the junction with Toad Lane up to the junction with Pinfold Lane so that they follow a logical sequence for someone walking from one end to the other. New pictures needed to be slotted into their correct position, but so many Low Street pictures had appeared that, even after the third numbering and leaving large gaps in the sequence it would need a fourth attempt before the catalogues could be published.

Adding to the Information

Aside from being consulted about the photographs which she had supplied in 1988 to Geoff Peabody, Mary Peatfield also found herself being consulted on other people's photographs, tapping her extensive knowledge of the village and its inhabitants spanning ninety years, and her prodigious memory. To a considerable but lesser extent Chris Crawford was doing the same, so both were co-opted and asked to keep a note of the time they spent so that it would count towards our contribution to the Project.

As we entered the middle of 2007 more large collections came to light, including three sets showing the old Tudor Farm and the building of Tudor Oaks, a Darwin family photograph album, an almost complete set of portraits and photographs of past rectors, pictures of life on Chapel Farm, 35 pictures of the Bond and Kirkland families, an album of pictures showing the Old Forge taken over many years, and 100 photographs of the building of The Orchard. The school kindly loaned eight of their photo albums going back to the 1980s and the sad demise of Harry James in August brought to light a scrapbook of school research for which he won an award in 1970 from the Newark Archaeological and Local History Society in a competition open to local villages. His scrapbook provided thirty new photographs as well as throwing light on images already collected but about which little or nothing was known. With the scrapbook was a folder of maps which added significantly to the research already done by Jean Williamson. Having a better grip on dates, the school photographs that had been acquired from other sources were renumbered and prefixed with the date of the image so that they ended up in a chronological sequence from as early as 1884. In this way any further pictures could be placed into the sequence without a complete renumbering being needed.

Powerpoint and Movie Shows

The collection grew continuously from offers of single images to whole albums of photographs and cine film and video till by the end of March 2008 the originally estimated target of 2000 images had already nearly been reached, with the expectation that the final count after another year could well be in the region of 3000. Dave Sankey had by this time spent over 1200 hours working on various aspects of the Project, aside from attending events and meetings.

As with the catalogue, the task of creating the Powerpoint shows couldn't be left till the end, when other pressures would arise from equally urgent tasks and when shortage of time would jeopardise the quality of the end product. So these were built up as the collection grew and the best images were added or substituted periodically. The principle show would be of a walk round the village showing first a historic photograph and then a modern picture from the same viewpoint. To add interest some scenes which featured people were recreated, the first of which were taken of Hall Farm by John Baty with the help of the Clark children and their mother Annette and grandma Almuth.

The Powerpoint show starts at Elston Hall. The tour then proceeds along Top Street stepping aside to take in a few views of the Old Rectory and the church and then to take a look, in past and present, at the views from the church tower. It then takes in the school and the Village Hall Field before returning to Top Street to resume the walk to the junction with Toad Lane. There is a diversion to see the building of The Orchard and then the walk continues along Mill Road to the mill before returning to The Chequers to continue down Toad Lane and into Low Street. Regrettably there had been precious few pictures of The Paddocks, Carrgate Lane, Central Drive, Winston Drive, Darwin Close, or the Little Scutchel. After a short diversion to the Old Chapel the route continues up Low Street with digressions to show the transformation of Tudor Farm into Tudor Oaks and a glimpse of life on Chapel Farm. Thence the walk continues to the corner and up Pinfold Lane, along Lodge Lane and ending with Elston Towers. Suitable background music and occasional sound effects add to the interest of the pictures themselves.

A couple of months before the Project’s first exhibition Dave Sankey gave a preview showing of two of the Powerpoint shows to an audience of over a hundred members and non-members at the Pentagon Society’s January 2008 meeting. The prelude to “An Elston Walk”, which lasted about 40 minutes, was a separate feature lasting about 10 minutes called “The Seasons,” which comprised a few dozen views of Elston in the changing seasons, also with suitable music and the sounds of nature. Many of these had been taken around the Village throughout 2007.

A packed Village Hall waits expectantly for the first public showing of some five hundred images at the Pentagon's January 2008 meeting.

The collection of aerial views of the Village, taken over many years from various altitudes and angles, was begun and would make another interesting short presentation, perhaps for the Second Exhibition. Another slideshow would be made up of the school pictures, dating from 1884, and which would provide an interesting documentary in themselves, suitable for showing to the children but of equal interest to the adults, as many of them, or their parents and siblings, appear in early school groups. February of 2009, described at the time as the worst winter for 18 years, would provide a wealth of photographs of Elston covered in snow and enough material for another show.

In due course, other priorities permitting and once he had learned how to edit movies, Dave& created further shows from the videos and cine film that had been provided from four sources in the village and which had been converted commercially into digital format. These included footage of the Silver Jubilee celebrations in 1977 and of the Golden Jubilee celebrations in 2002, a tour round the village in 1976, and an even earlier film of an excursion in one of Gash's buses. These were put together for the second exhibition and for the Pentagon Society's part in celebrating Elston Heritage Year 2010.

Further acquisitions

Among the smaller contributions were a couple of Victorian portraits found hidden in the back of a frame used for a modern photo, a photograph of Sam Sterling in his Boer War uniform, some of the excellent photographs Harry James had taken of the wall paintings in the Old Chapel, rare pictures of the first and only duck race on the River Devon, a couple of dozen photographs of social gatherings which featured many of the Village’s older residents who had passed on, and a set of photographs showing the demolition of Firs Farm prior to the building of Paddocks Close.

Following an article in the Newark Advertiser in early 2008 there was a small flood of new photographs over the following two weeks coming in from farther afield, including a unique picture of the old saddlery inLow Street, an album of photographs taken by the Rev Charles Howard, rector at Elston from 1922 to 1932, and another of Katherine Jackson, whose father had farmed around the area of Old Chapel Lane and whose son Joseph William Dench was a First World War hero.

First Exhibition

The first of two Exhibitions was held in April 2008 and enabled the Team to show how much had been achieved in the first fifteen months of the Project. It included selected photographs from each category and a puzzle corner where visitors could assist by identifying any pictures in the Archive about which little or nothing was known. The complete set of images was printed out and arranged in eight volumes of the illustrated catalogue. Visitors were invited to leaf through these and to provide any information where the captions were short on detail or dates.

The Exhibition also saw the launching of the second phase of the Photographic Archive. The draft albums would be made available to the oldest residents in the village and to other key players who were in the best position to add to the information on the captions, so that by the end of the Project a definitive set of catalogues could be run off on high quality paper and in better quality binders and with much more detail on each image.

More acquisitions

The Exhibition, as expected, caused another flurry of activity in attics and garages as visitors, their enthusiasm to take part in this enterprise fired by what they had seen, brought along to the Village Hall or sent afterwards, photographs that they had found. These included some charming snow scenes of the Spinney taken in October 1990 with one of the milk being delivered by tractor, several photographs of the cricket match in the school field in 1995 to commemorate 100 years of the Parish Council, more pictures of the Kirkland family, and a large number of photographs taken in 1963 before and during the renovation of Smith’s Shop. So large now was the collection of pictures of Ardmore House that it now warranted a separate file to relieve the bulging file for Low Street. Shortly afterwards another large collection included many photographs of Stokefields Farm, which despite most of it being in East Stoke parish rather than Elston, was included nonetheless because of the close connection with the village and the fact that it provides a link between Hollywood and Elston. It seems Carl Brisson, the Danish-born matinee idol and close friend of Cary Grant, was an occasional visitor to the farm, where he came for the rook shooting whenever he was performing on the stage in Nottingham. More photographs continued to be turned out by previous contributors, including some of the fancy dress parade at the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977, and some aerial shots of Elston Hall.

Along with photographs, a few memoirs were loaned, including a short book by Stuart Poucher, whose father John Poucher had farmed Lineham House Farm after the Second World War, and another by Margaret Moutrie who had lived in Mill House when the mill was fully functioning and who remembered Mr Beeston who ran the shop in Low Street. These books were copied and passed to the Documents Archive and the Headstone Project.

By February 2009, the number of photographs in the Archive had grown to 2,400 and by the time the first DVDs of the Archive were produced in July 2009, to 2,600.